Great benefits can be reaped by students from the collaboration of their class’ Head Teacher with a Psychologist experienced in facilitating experiential workshops to strengthen Life Skills. Such a partnership led to the creation of "Together we can do it better!", an action offered during the Life Education class while the students were still in school, aimed at developing their social and emotional skills (e.g. communication, collaboration, creativity, empathy, self-awareness, curiosity).
Beyond the innovation of such a collaboration, the number of workshops (11) offered at the school is unique for a public-school setting in Cyprus, as is the use of various indoor and outdoor spaces (in and surrounding the school) during the workshops. When the school closed down on March 11th due to Covid-19, the class Head Teacher remained in regular contact with the students through their parents (by exchanging individual and group messages via phone) and sending schoolwork and ideas for other activities that the students could do at home.
By the beginning of April and amidst the lack of clarity on how distance learning should take place for public schools in Cyprus, it became obvious that the students needed a way to have synchronous, face-face meetings with the teacher for a number of reasons. Therefore, it was decided to continue “Together we can do it better!” online (on the Zoom platform) with the following goals:
a) provide the children with direct verbal and visual contact with their teacher and their classmates in the context of their socialization and mental/emotional wellbeing
(b) offer opportunities to the students to share their experiences of what is happening in the world around them but also in their inner world
(c) create opportunities for them to present their talents and strengths
(d) keep them energized on physical, mental and emotional level.
From the first live, afternoon virtual meeting with the students, their need to talk about their feelings and thoughts about the quarantine and what they've done to fill their time was confirmed. All the children were happy to see their classmates live again. A discussion took place with the children about what "resilience" and "learning" mean, as the current situation tests their ability to endure this unknown situation and their ability to learn different things and develop new skills in new ways.
It is clear that while the children were being “spoon-fed” the content of the official curriculum and were under full control at their school, from March 11 onwards they suddenly found themselves with the golden opportunity to determine their own learning path based on their motivations, their creativity, their abilities and the resources around them (including the degree of support and encouragement from their parents).
The children revealed that now they are trying to practice their spelling skills on their own, they write texts, they draw/paint, they prefer to write on alternative surfaces, they have realized what their favorite hobbies are, they are happy that they are not rushing every afternoon from one extracurricular activity to another, they enjoy the increased quality time they have with their parents, they write texts accompanied by music they like, they do their own thought process before they draw, they have more time for physical exercise.
The plans for the virtual meetings include physically energizing activities (adapted, where needed, for the online environment), team challenges, opportunities for individual input and discussions. Here’s a sample of what has been done so far:
- Mazinga energizer
- Paparazzi team challenge
- Hee-ha-ho/Hee-ha-hey! energizer
- My grandmother energizer
- 2-minute presentations of any topic of their choice, with feedback received by classmates and the facilitators
- What are you doing? energizer
- Corona-eating Dragon energizer
- One question for each child self-revealing activity (questions offered by the facilitators and by the students)
- The fastest mouth team challenge
- Mission Impossible I and II team challenges
- Free-discussion on “What would you do to make life better for children in Cyprus after the pandemic?”
- Celebrating and dancing together for the newborn brother of one of the students
- Kicking the air energizer
- What dogs can teach humans discussion
In upcoming meetings, the students will have more opportunities to participate creatively, to socialize, to work together as a group and to share things that concern them.
None of the virtual meetings includes a standard lesson from the official public education curriculum, nor ready-made handouts. However, they are an important educational tool, as they give children the opportunity to learn something new each time, whether it is more information about something they are interested in, a new vocabulary, a role they have in the team, technological skills, reflective and metacognitive skills and the ability to teach something to others. The opportunity to experience, in other words, real education which activates the body, the mind and emotions, remotely.
A manual is being produced for the entire series and will include the descriptions of activities done since October 2019 so that they can be replicated in Cyprus and abroad.
Counseling Psychologist, Trainer/Facilitator, Learning Design Consultant
Member, International Association of Facilitators